The development of high-performance photoacoustic (PA) probes that can monitor disease biomarkers in deep tissue has the potential to replace invasive medical procedures such as a biopsy. However, such probes must be optimized for in vivo performance and exhibit an exceptional safety profile. In this study, we have developed PACu-1, a PA probe designed for biopsy-free assessment (BFA) of hepatic Cu via photoacoustic imaging. PACu-1 features a Cu(I)-responsive trigger appended to an aza-BODIPY dye platform that has been optimized for ratiometric sensing. Owing to its excellent performance, we were able to detect basal levels of Cu in healthy wild-type mice as well as elevated Cu in a Wilson’s disease model and in a liver metastasis model. To showcase the potential impact of PACu-1 for BFA, we conducted two blind studies in which we were able to successfully identify Wilson’s disease animals from healthy control mice in each instance.

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